Under the General Education Bill of 1909, the State of Tennessee established normal
schools to train teachers in each of the state’s three grand divisions. The purpose
of these schools was to establish standards or norms for teaching. At the time, the
majority of teachers held third-grade certificates, indicating that they not only
lacked college training but also high school training. The average teacher salary
was $130 per year and the school term lasted 93 days.
The State Board of Education chose a site for the West Tennessee Normal School six
miles from downtown Memphis on Midland and Southern avenues adjacent to the Southern
Railway. In addition to the convenience of railway transportation, the City of Memphis
agreed to make immediate water and sewage connections and extend the Buntyn street-car
line. Construction of the West Tennessee State Normal School began in June of 1911.
|Faculty, staff and students gather on the steps of the Administration Building in
the early days of the University.
Seymour Mynders was chosen by the State Board of Education as president of the new
normal school. While supervising the building of the school, Mynders selected the
school faculty, prepared the curriculum and wrote the school bulletin. Mynders hired
17 faculty members to teach the “Normal Course,” a two-year course of study that prepared
teachers for the elementary public schools. Upon completion of the course, graduates
received a diploma, which served as a life certificate of qualification to teach all
grade levels in any public school in Tennessee. The curriculum was divided into nine
departments: English, education, history, mathematics, science, language, manual training,
agriculture and the training school.
The law establishing the school provided that it would be open to white residents
of Tennessee who were a minimum of 16 years of age and had completed at least the
elementary school course prescribed for the public schools of the state. Applicants
had to present a certificate of good moral character from a responsible person, and
furnish evidence of being strong physically and free from chronic defects that would
prevent satisfactory work as a student.
The school was tuition-free to all Tennessee students. The only monies collected were
a $2 registration fee for each term and $1 for summer terms. Non-Tennessee residents
were charged a tuition of $12 per term and the regular $2 registration fee.
The West Tennessee State Normal School officially opened on Sept. 10, 1912, at a cost
of $450,000. The initial buildings on the 81-acre campus, nestled among magnificent
oak trees and open fields, were the Administration/Academic Building and Mynders Hall.
The three-story Administration/Academic Building had more than 50 rooms dedicated
to classrooms, offices, laboratories and an auditorium. Mynders Hall — the girls’
dormitory — had 110 bedrooms, a parlor, kitchen, dining room, infirmary and quarters
for the matron. Male students lived off campus in Prescott Flats, a two-story apartment
building near the school; male athletes were housed in rooms set aside in the Administration
To accommodate the school, Southern Railroad established Normal Station, a Craftsman-style
waiting station that served the rail and streetcar lines. Upon arrival at the school,
students could have their baggage carried by mule wagons to the dormitory. In many
instances, male students carried the baggage on pushcarts or rolling bed frames. Male
students frequently carried the women’s bags up to their floors, under the watchful
eye of chaperones, as otherwise men were not allowed in women’s dormitories. For a
five-cent fee, students could ride the streetcar to downtown, a trip that lasted approximately
Approximately 200 students enrolled for the first semester of classes.
— by Janann Sherman,
with special thanks to Cynthia Sadler and Rachel South